My friend, Jon Paul Kirkham, recently returned from his 10th trip to Cuba. He started this process before Cuba was friendly to outsiders, especially Americans. His mission is to share the Gospel of Christ with people who don’t know Him. Does that sound like a novel idea? Ironically, I have another friend who told me, “I no longer call myself an Evangelical.” How can two individuals professing to be Christians, who have regular attendance in church, appear almost diametrically in opposition to each other?
The world has become a banner of disrepute. Evangelism and “sharing your faith” has become disfigured by political pundits, muddled by protestors from the left and right, and brought into dishonor by self-proclaimed spokespeople who excuse inappropriate behavior and language as the necessary price for political power.
He, Jesus, told us that we are like branches and He is the vine. He promises that if we remain in Him, like a healthy branch well connected to a vine, we will bear much fruit. Imagine that—branches overflowing with clusters of grapes. What an image. He continues with this promise: “Come harvest time, the vine and the branches will both share in fullness of joy…..and My joy will be in you and your joy will be made complete.”
Upon Jon Paul’s return from his numerous trips, there is a glow about him and a pure delight of life. A stream of satisfaction, that we all dream of having, is flowing from his very being. This type of “sharing” has shifted, and many evangelicals and believers wonder where they fit. Consequently, they remain silent about their faith. The second friend who is/was an evangelical says he feels a bit embarrassed and he has chosen to avoid the term and even the identity of being a Christian. He is not alone. The term and behavior associated with “sharing the gospel” is deeply emotional. Consequently, large number of Christians have gone silent.
Anyone who has ever gone on a spiritual retreat has experienced the joy that comes from such an activity. God’s Joy is our Joy!! Remember what Christ said to His disciples? Paraphrased: “you are going to be like sheep hanging out with wolves.” I can identify with this. “Many people are going to reject you.” Been rejected! You think the disciples were reluctant and filled with fear? I would have been. I remember my first retreat with a group of teenagers who said before we left: “do we have to go?” “this is not going to be fun,” “boring.” Upon our return from the retreat as we pulled into the school parking lot it was different from their initial sendoff. Instead, they were singing praise songs with gusto. A common comment from parents of these young people was “what did you do while you were gone?’ “ I have never seen my child so happy and joyful!” “Come harvest time the branches and the vine will both share in fullness of joy.”
At this time of year when colleges and secondary schools are having their commencement programs I would echo the words of Francis of Assisi when he said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.” Whatever you do stay connected to the vine.